Health care workers more vulnerable than ever to violence. N.J. wants tougher punishment for offenders. –

Health care workers more vulnerable than ever to violence. N.J. wants tougher punishment for offenders. –

Nurses, doctors, and aides were routinely lauded as heroes at the height of the pandemic, but these public tributes belie the fact that health care workers are more vulnerable to threats of workplace violence than any other profession, according to federal labor data.
People who make threats or commit other violent acts against health care workers would face more prison time under a bill that overwhelmingly passed the state Assembly in a 78-0 vote Thursday. The “Health Care Heroes Violence Prevention Act,” (A3199) awaits a vote in the Senate, and would then head to Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk for signature.
“Health care workers are five times more likely to be victims of aggravated assault,” Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald, D-Camden), one of the prime sponsors of the bill, said before the vote.
The bill creates the crime of making threats against a health care professional or volunteer in the performance of his or her duties. A perpetrator who “knowingly and willfully makes a threat… with the intent to intimidate, interfere with or impede the performance” of a health care professional is guilty of a disorderly person’s offense, punishable by six months in jail, a fine of up to $1,000, or both, according to the bill.
The offender also may be sentenced to an anger management course and up to 30 days of community service in lieu of incarceration, according to the bill.
Health care facilities would be required to post a notice stating: “It is a crime to assault a health care professional, any volunteer working for a health care professional or working at a health care facility, or any employee of a health care professional or a health care facility, while the health care professional, volunteer, or employee is performing official duties. Any person who assaults a health care professional, volunteer, or employee in violation of this prohibition shall be subject to a fine, imprisonment, or both.”
The legislation also gives offenders discretion to impose a longer sentence on someone who assaults or harasses health care professionals, the bill said. Judges already have discretion to impose harsher penalties when someone assaults or otherwise harms police officers, firefighters and corrections officers, the sponsors said.
“We could have not gone through the last two years without the dedication of our frontline healthcare workers. They are truly heroes in this pandemic. Unfortunately, these frontline healthcare heroes have reported a dramatic increase in violent acts since 2020,” Greenwald said in a statement after the vote. “This proposal will strengthen protections for these frontline workers by enhancing penalties and awareness about violence in the workplace.”
Doug Placca, executive director for the health care worker union JNESO, said he appreciated the attention lawmakers are giving the issue of workplace violence. But it’s only a good first step, he said.
“Where is the accountability on the employers to provide a safe environment? In any setting, the responsibility lies with the employer,” Placca said, taking a break from the picket line with the nurses and technicians who are striking at St. Michael Medical Center in Newark.
Healthcare workers accounted for 73 percent of all nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses due to violence in 2018, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“Many advocates believe that cases of violence are likely much higher than reported, which is alarming,” said Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter, D-Passaic, also a sponsor of the bill. “Health care professionals should feel safe as they perform their duties and feel encouraged to report mistreatment.”
Debbie White, president of Health Professionals and Allied Employees, a health care worker union, said the bill recognizes the “seriousness this crisis warrants. If our hospitals and nursing homes are unsafe for workers, they are unsafe for our patients too.”
White said she hoped the legislation led to more discussion on ways to prevent violence in hospitals and other health care settings. “There are ways we can minimize risks,” she said.
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Susan K. Livio may be reached at Follow her on Twitter @SusanKLivio.
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